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A Dream to Die For: A Novel

A Dream to Die For: A Novel

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A Dream to Die For: A Novel

4/5 (1 Bewertung)
344 Seiten
5 Stunden
Jul 16, 2019


In Riverton Falls, a small New England town, globe-trotting bartender Celeste Fortune stands in her kitchen puzzling over last night’s frightening dream—a woman at a window, lilacs blowing in the breeze, someone’s hands tight around her neck. Celeste is sure the dream belongs to someone else. Perhaps she has finally broken through to the collective dreams of Dreamland cult. Hoping her therapist and cult leader will help her untangle it, she heads off into the cold November morning to her final appointment with him—or so she hopes. Her estranged fiancé has delivered an ultimatum: Leave the cult of Dreamers, or end their relationship for good.
Instead of help, however, Celeste discovers her therapist dying in a pool of blood, skull stove in by his own healing crystal. His computer, containing the intimate dreams and secrets of half the town, is gone. Suspicion immediately falls on Celeste, known to be a rebellious member of his cult. To clear her name, Celeste enlists the help of her old friend, Gloria. But when the two women discover the power of the stolen dreams, they unwittingly become the killer’s next target.
Jul 16, 2019

Über den Autor

Susan Ritz grew up in Minnesota, but she left home to become a wandering scholar; she lived, studied, and worked as a social worker in Kenya, Japan, Singapore, and Indonesia in the 1970s. She worked as a human rights lobbyist in Washington, DC, during the Carter Administration before moving to Dachau, Germany, the setting for her memoir in progress, On the Edge of Dachau. For the past thirty years she has lived with her husband and three children in Montpelier, Vermont, where she has worked as a fund raiser, events coordinator, and philanthropic advisor for a wide range of nonprofit organizations, especially those promoting economic equality for women. Writing, however, has always been her passion, and after receiving an MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College, she began writing for local publications, teaching creative writing to adults and high school students, and working on her first novel, A Dream to Die For.


A Dream to Die For - Susan Z. Ritz




Celeste reached for the remnants of last night’s dream. She’d woken, gasping for breath, throat raw and sore as if she’d been screaming in her sleep. A woman at a window, bushes blowing in a soft breeze. A shadow coming at her from behind. She’d scribbled down the disjointed images in her journal before she’d even opened her eyes, but now the morning had whisked the rest away. Still, she couldn’t shake the feelings of panic and guilt. She tried again to find a thread that would lead her back in, but it was too late.

Battered old Mr. Coffee burped and spluttered the last drops of java into the carafe. Celeste poured herself an oversize mug and stumbled back to bed to see what she could figure out. Propped against a pile of pillows, she opened the black leather notebook and sipped her coffee. Nothing in the trio of lines she’d scratched out in black ink explained why the dream left her feeling both frightened and ashamed. At least nothing she could figure out on her own. She wondered what Larry would make of this dream—the last she would share with him after four years of therapy.

All that time, Celeste had tracked her dreams, learning to decipher the letters and words she’d jotted down, often with eyes still closed, on the unlined pages of her journal. She’d poured out hundreds of dreams—some just scraps or a single startling image, others pages long, like surreal short stories. But now, if she could stick to her plan, she was done. Today was the day she was going to tell him she was quitting, and there was no way he was going to talk her out of it again. She’d had enough of Larry Blatsky, his Dreamers, and this thing he called the Dreamscape, the thing Jake called a cult.

Celeste tossed the journal onto the heap of library books, magazines, and last Sunday’s New York Times that littered the floor next to her side of the bed. Jake’s side was as neat and uncluttered as it had been since he’d moved out six weeks earlier. She rolled over onto the smooth, cool sheets. There was no trace of Jake there, no scent on the pillow she hugged to herself. She wanted to touch his body, then run her hand through the tangle of dark curls on his chest, pat his beer belly. She wanted to feel his legs stretched long against hers and play footsie under the comforter. She’d allowed Larry to take it all away.

Larry will destroy you, she remembered Jake saying the night he left, as he jammed his clothes into his duffel bag. This isn’t a game, Celeste. He’ll turn you into someone you don’t know or even recognize. That’s what he does. Believe me, I’ve seen it. I can’t stay and watch that happen to you.

She shook her head, trying to dislodge the memory. If Jake were still there, lying where he’d been the whole six whirlwind months of their engagement, she knew she could go through with her plan.

Get down there and tell him it’s over, he’d say, the calloused fingertips of his guitar strummer’s hands on her cheeks, pulling her face to his for a good-luck kiss. He’d say, You’re tough. Larry’s no match against you in a fight! Go get it over with.

Without Jake to back her up, though, Celeste wondered if she had it in her. She’d tried to stand up to Larry before, but she’d always left her therapy session feeling defeated and hopelessly mired in what he called her Demon Mind, the labyrinth of self-loathing and doubt Larry had unearthed and then used to control her.

Not this time, she thought, getting up to raise the shade to the wan November light. Larry wasn’t going to win while she still had a chance at happiness. She’d waited too long for the enlightenment he’d promised. Now all she wanted was love. She was going to get Jake back in her bed where he belonged.

Celeste shuffled through the pile of clothes she’d left thrown over the back of the folding chair the night before. With Jake gone, she had no reason to fold her sweaters, or hang up her skirts, or even clean the apartment. Not like she had much to control anyway. Some yard sale furniture, pots and pans from Salvation Army, a functional but minimal wardrobe from New To You—all things she could put out with the trash or recycle if she needed to make a quick getaway, like she had from the last couple of towns where she’d lived before landing in Riverton Falls. She could still fit everything that mattered into two suitcases in the back of her trusty old red Jetta and hightail it out of town.

Not this time, she said out loud to herself. This time you’re going to stay. But not with Larry.

Celeste pulled on a pair of crumpled brown cords, then gave her russet sweater a quick sniff to make sure it was relatively free of sweat and booze.

You’re wearing that? Right on cue, her mother’s voice rang through her head.

Better hurry! You’re going to be late again, her father added.

Even Larry hadn’t been able to silence her parents’ critical comments, though they’d both been dead for years. She combed back her mop of wiry blonde hair into a ponytail. As usual she struggled to get up and organized for these early morning appointments, even if early morning for Celeste was actually noon. Sometimes she thought about giving up tending bar and getting a serious day job, but she liked having her mornings and afternoons wide open. Besides, with Jake out of the picture, the bar at least kept her from some lonely evenings. For now.

Teeth, face, juice, another cup of coffee. She ran back into the bedroom and from her dresser she grabbed the tiny verdigris mermaid, one of the few possessions that had traveled the world with her. Her good-luck charm. A present from her mother one long-ago birthday. Celeste shoved her journal in her pack and banged out through the doorway into the damp, late autumn morning, zipped up her ratty down vest, and took off at a brisk pace for Larry’s house, fifteen minutes across town.

It was the kind of morning that made her dread winter’s arrival—dark and damp, with the threat of sleet hanging in the low gray clouds. The big Victorian houses along the way looked as dreary as the day, their porches emptied of summer’s wicker furniture, tired perennial gardens cut down to spiky stems, front stoops dotted with wrinkled, worn-out jack-o’-lanterns. Dry brown leaves scuttled across the sidewalks in the raw wind, and a raucous murder of crows wheeled above the bare trees on the hills overlooking the town. Once winter actually arrived, Celeste would feel better, but the anticipation of the increasingly dark weeks ahead made this transition hard to take. Everyone seemed depressed and cranky between Halloween and the first week in December when the Christmas lights went up at last and, with some luck, an early snow brightened the rolling New England landscape.

Celeste hugged her journal to her chest as she walked through town, head down, trying to figure out the dream. Maybe it was one of those big dreams Larry had always hoped she’d have. Like the one about the whale bones she discovered with the Indian elders. Or the one with the tall, African man in his sky-blue caftan holding her hand as they gazed out to sea from atop a grassy bluff. Maybe she’d finally broken through into the Third Level dreams Larry promised would emerge when she joined the Dreamers, Larry’s hand-picked group of advanced clients. Great. Right when she was about to jump ship and leave all that craziness behind, she may have finally crashed through the barrier that had kept her on the fringes for almost a year.

No. One dream was not going to crumble her resolve. Celeste began to practice her lines.

Larry, I’m done. Larry, I’m leaving you, she chanted under her breath right up to the walkway leading through an overgrown lilac hedge, across the patchy brown lawn to his little brick Cape. It stood out in this town of wooden clapboard homes, always reminding her of the third little pig’s house— too sturdy to be blown over by the big, bad wolf.

She hesitated before stepping onto the flagstones, stuffing the journal into her pack. She could still skip the appointment. She didn’t need to tell Larry she was quitting. The old Celeste, the one she’d been before Larry, wouldn’t have had any trouble just walking away; but Larry had huffed and puffed until her defiance finally crumbled into compliance. Besides, she was curious about that dream. She felt for the mermaid in her pocket. Squaring her shoulders, she marched up the walk, past the weed-choked flower beds, through the front door, and into Larry Blatsky’s waiting room.



In Larry’s overheated reception area, Celeste squirmed on the lumpy couch, rearranging the heart-shaped silk pillows nestled in its corners. She’d never been good at sitting with her thoughts, and today she was so nervous she couldn’t stop fidgeting. To distract herself, she perused the few paintings that hung on the walls—a half dozen small watercolors of starry nights and blue skies filled with diaphanous angels. In the beginning, Celeste had thought all the art must have been done by children, but she learned via the local bar gossip that these were the only traces left of Larry’s wife. She’d disappeared, whispered the group of Larry’s loyal insiders. Ran off with some hippie guy, they’d heard, and Larry had never mentioned her since. Strange. Why hadn’t he tried to erase these reminders of their life together? Perhaps he’d just never gotten around to it, like she still hadn’t managed to throw out Jake’s can of shaving cream in her medicine cabinet. As long as it remained, there was still hope he’d be back.

Still restless, Celeste picked through the faded backpack she used as a purse, looking for something to read. She pulled out her journal and began thumbing through the last few months of dreams. When she’d first begun therapy, Celeste had filled up one of these notebooks in a matter of weeks. Lately, though, her dreams had seemed mundane: no more handsome leading men, Larry’s so-called Golden Princes, no more villainous Dark Mother figures to puzzle over or gestalt in her visits to Larry. In fact, her dreams had shrunk down to snippets, mostly truncated reruns of the events of her day, either too boring to even bother recording or dreams about Jake she knew would cause trouble. The dreams had lost their potency as the pain of losing Jake had replaced the pain Larry kept trying to get her to dredge up from her past.

She was still flipping through the pages when the door to Larry’s office opened. Out came an unfamiliar man, tall and gaunt, wearing mirrored Ray-Bans, clutching his own dream journal, a flimsy composition notebook. New client, she guessed, or at least one she’d never seen before. Larry was right behind him. The man turned in the doorway and the much shorter, much stouter Larry reached up and threw his arms around the man’s concave chest in his ritual good-bye hug. The man pulled back and stiffened.

Larry’s hugs were something Celeste also tried unsuccessfully to avoid. At five foot ten she towered over him, and too often he ended up with his head pressed against her admittedly small breasts. She never liked hugs from anyone, but from the beginning Larry had forced them on her, telling her that she needed to surrender to his love.

Open your heart to me, Cel, he’d say as he came in for the clinch. Drop the armor and let me in.

She’d done exactly that for Jake and discovered that his hugs were warm and comforting, while Larry’s continued to feel cold and forced. Larry had managed to convince her that her unwillingness to melt on contact was her own fault. It had taken her far too long to understand that Larry’s game wasn’t actually about opening her heart. It was about opening her wallet, over and over until there was nothing left. At any rate, she doubted he’d be hugging her today.

Okay, man, you know the plan, right? said Larry, thumping the man on the back so hard his whole bony frame shook and a shock of white hair tumbled across his forehead. See you in a few.

The man nodded, then walked by Celeste, looking down at his feet and smiling to himself. He looked familiar. Maybe the new pharmacist over at Downtown Drugs? Or perhaps she’d seen him in the meditation room at the Buddhist laundry.

Other therapists, she’d heard, had separate entrances and exits for clients or would at least space their appointments to avoid any embarrassing encounters. That would have made sense in this small town where Larry seemed to be ministering to almost everyone. Larry, however, didn’t believe in confidentiality.

Privacy is overrated, he’d said after telling her all about the erotic, almost pornographic, dreams one of the Dreamers had had about her.

In fact, Larry made a point of sharing intimate details of his clients’ lives and dreams because, he’d once explained, it deepened the Dreamscape for all. My wish, he’d told her years ago, is to have all my clients sharing their dreams, caught up in the big web of the Dreamscape. We could be the collective unconscious of Riverton Falls! That sounded great at the time, very spiritual and deep, until she realized Larry’s real need was to be the Dream Master himself, in charge of not only his clients’ dream lives but their waking lives, too.

Come on in, Cel, Larry said, waving her through the door.

It’s Celeste, actually. Larry and the Dreamers were the only people who ever called her Cel, and until now she’d never had the confidence to correct them. Today would be different.

She slid by him, looking down. Larry’s head barely reached her shoulders, allowing her to take measure of the growing bald spot that he tried to cover by teasing back his thinning blond hair into a feathery pompadour.

Larry’s office was as drab as his waiting room, plain old brown office furniture she guessed he’d salvaged from a bankruptcy sale, though Celeste figured with the rates he charged, he could afford better. She sometimes wondered just what exactly he did with all the money he hauled in from his clients. Probably stashed it in some overseas tax-dodge account. The fancy-looking computer on his desk was the only thing in the office that didn’t look tired and worn.

No diplomas or certificates hung on the walls, something Celeste should have paid attention to the first time she’d entered his office. Never having been to a therapist before, maybe, she’d naively thought, dream therapists didn’t display their credentials like doctors or massage therapists. It never occurred to her that Larry had no certificates.

Celeste sat in one of the two mismatched, straight-backed chairs in front of Larry’s desk, crossing her legs and folding her arms tightly against her chest. Suddenly from behind her came a loud command: Feel the pain! Feel the pain!

Celeste grabbed both sides of her seat and turned her head to glare at the talker. In the corner, pacing freely along a thin bamboo perch, Larry’s blue and green parrot bobbed his head up and down. Pete never failed to alarm her, especially when he landed on her head and pecked at her ears, as he had on more than one occasion. Sometimes when she was deep in a gestalt of some particularly scary or disconcerting dream, he would fly in frantic circles around the office. Larry refused to clip the bird’s wings. Something about leaving him wild and free.

Shut up, Pete! Larry yelled. Tea? He wiggled the mug Celeste was certain the pharmacist had just finished drinking from and walked to the closet where he kept his electric kettle, along with some Lipton tea bags and powdered creamer.

No thanks.

They went through this same ritual every week, but Larry never noticed how she cringed just imagining drinking from the crusty mug.

Cookie? Larry asked, returning to his rolling chair and pushing a plate of hard chocolate discs toward her. His own half-eaten baloney sandwich rested on a paper napkin on his desk. Celeste remembered when his cookies had always been so deliciously gooey and homemade and his grade-school-style sandwiches had seemed charming. In the beginning, she’d felt like she’d been invited to tea with a friend who was there just for her, ready and willing to listen to her darkest secrets and deepest fears.

Back then, Larry had seemed eccentric, so even though he’d often been overly tough on her, she’d forgiven what seemed his necessary ass-kicking. He just wanted her to dive into her dreams and crack open her psyche, which he claimed had grown calloused and cold after all those years she’d turned her back on what he called her Vital Self. For years, she had completely trusted his guidance, believing he could see more of her than she could see of herself. Larry could drop inside her like a spelunker into a deep, dank cave and hunt down every last lie she’d ever told herself or anyone else. Even now, she believed he’d transformed her life by opening the door to her heart. Once that door was flung wide, however, and Jake had walked in, everything changed.

She looked at the plate of cookies on the desk. The time for tea and sympathy was long past. No thanks. Larry, I . . . She now realized she should tell him right off the bat this was her last session, before she lost her nerve and succumbed once again to his offerings. But that dream—she had to know what it was. Maybe this plan to leave Larry wasn’t about Jake at all, but another attempt to sabotage her own progress, as Larry had made her believe when she’d tried to get away before. No, she scolded herself, Larry’s not dragging me back in. Not this time.

Done your homework? Larry continued, shoving the last crust of sandwich into his mouth then leaning back in his chair. Celeste watched him chew, little crumbs gathering at the corners of his mouth.

Homework. She hadn’t even thought about it since her last session. When she’d first started coming to Larry, the homework had consumed her.

Feel your pain, your abandonment, how deeply afraid you are, Larry had urged. "Be the little orphan girl of your dreams. See how hungry she is, how hard she is trying to keep help from getting in the door? Stay with her. Back then he’d seemed an insistent but not unkind guide, challenging her to uncover what he called her Shadow, the parts of herself she’d hidden away long ago to protect herself from the chaos her drunken parents created around her. He’d explained how, with his help and her dedication to the homework, she would be reunited with the Magical Child" she had once been, the child who still huddled somewhere inside her.

For the first couple of years, she’d immersed herself in the dream images. She’d walked and walked, spending hours on the twisting paths of Hutchins Park, feeling the sadness and utter hopelessness of her dream children, looking down so no one would notice that her eyes were perpetually red from crying. She had nursed the little nub of pain until it blossomed into a hardy vine, twisting through her thoughts, strangling the seedling of self-confidence she’d tried so long to cultivate. The pain had made her life feel significant. So what if she spent most of her time alone, weeping and wailing in the woods or huddled in the corner of her living room couch conjuring up images of starving babies and misshapen children hidden in the dungeons and attics of her dreams? She was growing into her authenticity, Larry had said, into her Vital Self.

Every time any niggling doubts about his methods or insights crept into her sessions, Larry pounced, reeling her right back into the Dreamscape. Cel, Cel, that’s your false pride, your Demon Mind talking. It’s scared. It’s fighting back. It knows you’re trying to kill it. Over and over, Larry had managed to convince her that she was on the verge of a breakthrough, dangling the reward of a new life just out of her reach. All she had to do, he whispered, was let go, surrender, and let herself drown in the streams, the ponds, the waves always flooding her dreams.

Come on! Stop being afraid of the water! Ya gotta let yourself sink, dive into the waves. You gotta die to be reborn. Then you’ll be ready to become a Dreamer. Still, she kept struggling to stay afloat. Dream after dream, she fought the pull of the tide. Until Jake.

Now she forgot her homework assignments the moment she walked out the door. Looking back, she couldn’t believe she’d actually fallen for Larry’s promise of a life free from the self-doubt and anxiety that still plagued her. Here she sat, older and in many ways wiser, and Larry still hadn’t delivered. In fact, when she’d made the big leap and fallen in love at last, he’d ripped all the happiness she’d found right out from under her. No, she’d had enough of the Dreamscape.

She wasn’t only leaving Larry, though. She’d also have to say good-bye to the Dreamers, the group that had become her family. Maybe this was finally the dream that would make her a full-fledged member at last, part of the inner circle, the members who claimed they dreamed each other’s dreams. How could she know unless Larry told her? After these years with Larry, she’d almost forgotten how to think for herself or trust her own intuition.

So, ya didn’t do your homework, did ya? Larry leaned back in his chair. The buttons on his flowered Hawaiian shirt strained over his big belly. What’s your problem? You’re looking a little uneasy today, nervous. Letting your shame take over? Again?

Celeste looked down at her lap, struggling to hold on to her determination as Larry described exactly the feelings that had swallowed her a few hours earlier. How did he know she’d woken up feeling like she’d done something she needed to hide?

You’re letting the Demon Mind swamp you even after all the work we’ve done together. Don’t you understand you’re paralyzed with fear—that you’re getting older, that your life is getting smaller and more meaningless by the day? Instead of reaching inside, like I’ve told you and told you, you’re just letting it happen. And I thought we were actually getting somewhere with you.

She tried to push her hurt feelings back down where they belonged, angry at herself for the tears gathering along her lower eyelids.

There’s some tissues on the table if ya need ’em. Celeste shook her head no, stifling her little snuffling whimpers, and screwed up her resolve. She would not let Larry make her cry today. He would not bully her into anything ever again.

Larry pushed the Kleenex box toward her anyway, then leaned forward in his swivel chair, waiting to type up her words. Let’s get to work on your dream. I presume you brought a dream even if you didn’t do your homework. He sounded fed up with her. Let’s get in there and find out what those tears are all about so you can work on them for next time.

But I’m not—

Larry talked right over her. I’m serious here, Cel. If ya wanna keep working with me, then ya gotta keep up. How many times do I gotta say it? You go right back to the same old defensive patterns. Look at how you’re sitting, all locked up around yourself, keeping that heart suited up for battle, but afraid to make a move. Am I right?

Celeste shook her head, staring down. She watched as a fat tear from each eye fell into her lap, and then she hugged herself tighter. How could he still have this much power over her? Do it, goddamn it, she yelled inside her head. Tell him!

I’m not—

Feel the pain! Pete squawked, drowning out her whispered words.

Larry wasn’t listening to her anyway. Like how you still got that ring on.

Celeste protectively covered the engagement ring with her right hand. Jake had designed it for her before he’d even asked her to marry him—a sapphire, her birthstone, a sky-blue Ceylon surrounded by diamond chips in an antique white-gold setting—the most beautiful thing she’d ever owned, better than anything she’d ever imagined—though engagement rings had never been something she’d thought much about.

Jesus, Cel, when are you going to let go and move on in your life? Don’t you know it’s over with Jake? We’ve gone around and around on this. Your dreams are crystal clear, even if you refuse to believe them. Jake’s no good for you; he’s holding you back, keeping you from surrendering to the Dreamscape, to Dreamland. Let go of him. The choice is clear. You can’t keep living this double life. Larry shook his head, puckering his lips as if he wanted to spit. Jeez, just make up your mind once and for all.

Celeste felt her face flush red. Jake’s none of your business, Larry. In fact, I’m . . . this is . . . She drew in her breath, trying to summon her earlier resolve, but just as she was about to get the practiced words out, Larry exploded from his chair, arms outstretched, hands waving like signals in the air. He suddenly looked like a furious dwarf out of some Grimms’ fairytale, bellowing and snorting at her as he shot out from behind his desk on his stumpy, little legs.

No, I’m just your therapist! Are you fucking kidding me? Everything’s my business! When are you going to finally get that?

She shrank back as he barreled toward her. I guess never, since this is my last appointment. There, she

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  • (4/5)
    Have you ever woken up by a dream that is so scary, that you have to catch your breath, and check surroundings to check if you are in reality? What is even worse, is that you remember this particular dream, and wonder if it will recur?  Susan Z. Ritz, Author of "A Dream to Die For" writes about dreams in the day and nightmares. The Genres for this novel is Mystery, Suspense and Fiction. The story takes place in a charming, yet strange small New England Town. The timeline for this story is mostly in the present and goes to the past when it pertains to the characters or events. Susan Z. Ritz describes her characters as quirky, unique, dysfunctional and dramatic. Celeste Fortune is a Bartender in this small town, and is in therapy with Larry, to improve her life by discussing her dreams. Many of the other neighbors also go to Larry to discuss their dreams as well.  Larry seems to have a nice size clientele. Usually, nothing goes wrong in this small town, but Celeste finds Larry dead. Also gone is his computer, with all his client's information on it. Who could want Larry dead? Why would anyone want Larry dead? There suddenly is a danger and another dead body.  There seem to be some questionable characters. There are a  mystical feel and magical essence in this story. At times it is difficult to tell reality from fantasy. I would recommend this novel for those readers who enjoy an unusual mystery.